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E-pharmacy crackdown: Five web-portals under FDA scanner for selling drugs, FIRs against three

Under the Drug and Cosmetics Act, 1940 and the Drug and Cosmetics Rules, 1945, online sale of drugs is prohibited.

Written by Tabassum Barnagarwala | Mumbai |
May 30, 2016 3:56:19 am

Five web-portals have come under the radar of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for selling prescription drugs online.

While the FDA has already registered First Information Reports (FIRs) against three such e-pharmacies — MeraPharmacy.com, mChemist.com and Healercart.com, the process of initiating action against the other two — Pharmeasy.in and Netmed.com — is under way.

According to information accessed from the FDA, police have started investigations against the first three e-pharmacies. Three accused have also been arrested in connection with sale and supply to MeraPharmacy.com.

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For the two other websites, FDA officials have approached the Park Site police station in Vikhroli and the Kherwadi police station in Bandra.

“These websites were found selling drugs, both those available over the counter and scheduled ones, through an online system. It is considered illegal under our current provisions and we are initiating necessary action,” a joint commissioner from FDA said.

In the absence of a guideline to streamline online pharmacy, web portals continue to receive notices from the FDA to not dispense medicines online.

Under the Drug and Cosmetics Act, 1940 and the Drug and Cosmetics Rules, 1945, online sale of drugs is prohibited.

In PharmEasy.in, customers are given a 20 per cent discount on medicines and 40 per cent discount on diagnostic tests while at Merapharmacy.com, apart from discounted drugs, a facility for timely reminder for taking medicine before or after meals is also available.

In mChemist, however, sale of scheduled drugs and psychotropic substances is not available.

A lot of these web portals also offer online service through WhatsApp on which customers can upload their prescription and get medicines delivered at their doorstep.

In Netmeds.com, a facility to consult doctors online immediately for a free prescription is also available.

FDA officials said that an order was first placed by them through these websites before issuing notices.

Last year, about 20 websites were issued notices in Maharashtra for selling prescription drugs online, including e-giant Snapdeal, which sold 45 drugs, and Shopclues.com.

“We are also taking action against chemist shops that are supplying drugs to these websites,” an FDA official said.

Currently, a notice has been issued to a chemist in Vikhroli for supplying drugs to Pharmeasy.in for e-sale.

Data from FDA shows that in 2015-16, a total of 166 licences of retail and wholesale chemists were cancelled while licences of 335 others were suspended for various violations under Drug and Cosmetics Act. Of these, 105 chemists licences were cancelled because no pharmacist was found at the shop during inspection.

FDA officials claim a similar situation is mirrored in e-pharmacy, where based on prescription, a medicine is dispensed but not actually inspected by registered pharmacist.

“We are trying to increase awareness amongst people to stop buying medicines online as it is currently illegal. Physical shops in the state are under our licence and scrutiny but if a medicine is manufactured and delivered from another state, then state FDA has no jurisdiction to take action against them if they turn out to be spurious,” said FDA joint commissioner O S Sadhwani.

While chemists and pharmacists have voiced massive opposition to e-pharmacy, the central government has now formed a committee, headed by Maharashtra FDA commissioner Harshdeep Kamble, to come up with guidelines for e-pharmacies to function.

“Till now, four meetings have been conducted on this matter. We will soon submit our guidelines to the central government,” said Sadhwani, who is a member of the committee.

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